Thursday, October 11, 2012

Haven't got a prayer?

When I first saw this cartoon, my reaction was one of, ok, another friend on Facebook playing the smart ass atheist. Let's have a shot at Christians believing the fantasy of prayer - the separation of the noumenal from the phenomenal. Upon reflection, while the intent of the cartoon and the sharer may be that, it provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon the nature of prayer.

Christians believe in a God that gets involved with the universe. Humble Christians don't pretend to fully understand how it works. Humble atheists might appreciate that we can't understand fully how the universe works with or without God. But mystery is no excuse for intellectual laziness, so here goes a very short attempt at thinking about prayer.

Firstly, given that God is personal, prayer is not magic. It's not about simple manipulation to get results. If someone prays for healing and they are not healed, it is hard, a mystery, but it happens and we will never know why (unless you believe either God does not exist or that prayer doesn't change God's pre-ordained will).

Secondly, while miraculous healings occur (at least events that have been recorded may be interpreted as so inside a theistic framework); medical science and prayer are not opposed as in the strawman cartoon above. There have been some tragic cases in the media where they have been opposed by Christians and people have died; but there is no firm biblical warrant to back such irresponsible behaviour up. Paul had a physician and yet no doubt prayer. His thorn in the flesh may have been an issue with eyesight, we don't know. The only reference I know of that is antagonistic is in 2 Chronicles, where Asa is criticised for seeking physicians rather than the Lord. We need to keep in mind he was not pursuing medicine in any way we'd understand it but the equivalent of black magic.

Finally, God upholds all things - this is the doctrine of providential care. In a sense we are all kept alive by God, whether we pray or not.

So prayer is never a substitute for seeking health care through the wisdom and knowledge of doctors who, whether they acknowledge it or not, gain this from the great physician.

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